Marine mammals at the risk of contracting Covid-19

Published Nov 11, 2020


CAPE TOWN - A study has discovered whales and other marine mammals are vulnerable to contracting Covid-19 via improperly treated wastewater that's flushed into the ocean.

Multiple studies have found that Covid-19 was excreted in human faeces and was able to survive in water for up to 25 days which raised the possibility of another mode of transmission for the novel virus prompting further research which discovered the virus was detected in raw sewerage in Spain, Italy and France.

As raw sewerage flushes into the ocean especially in smaller municipalities where water treatment infrastructures aren't available, researchers took to discover the susceptible marine mammals to Covid-19.

“There’s definitely an opportunity, if there was steady effluent leaking into a waterway, that live virus could build up along coastlines to a level high enough to potentially infect a marine mammal – particularly those close to shore,” said Graham Dellaire, a pathologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“We saw there were dozens of whales and sea mammal species that were predicted to be as susceptible or more susceptible than humans,” said added Dellaire.

The team of researchers predicted that majority of the whale, dolphin and porpoise species were the same or more likely to contract the virus than humans are, while 8 out of 10 species of seals were predicted be highly susceptible.

The researchers found that the marine mammals may even spread the virus amongst each other, Dellaire saying, “It only takes one. It’s like a super-spreader event. If they’re all hanging out sunning themselves on the beach, one infected animal can spread it quickly.”

“As we move into new environments, this is not the first or last zoonotic pandemic,” Dellaire said, with the authors of the study suggesting that interactions between people and zoo animals to remain limited in efforts to reduce possible exposure to the virus.

The authors of the study suggest that the marine mammals be tested and possibly treated with vaccines and that all wastewater treatment infrastructure should ensure they are able to reduce and prevent transmission of the virus into natural waterways.

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